SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.

A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.

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NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Roman Space Telescope

A high-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

WASHINGTON (NASA HQ PR) — NASA has awarded a NASA Launch Services (NLS) II contract to Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) in Hawthorne, California, to provide launch service for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope mission. The Roman Space Telescope is the top-priority large space mission recommended by the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.

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A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own

New Shepard lands after the NS-21 flight. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

Part I of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For decades, the suborbital launch sector was largely a backwater. Militaries tested ballistic missiles, scientists conducted experiments, and engineers tested new technologies. A sounding rocket is small potatoes compared with orbital rocket launches and the glamor of human spaceflight. Few people paid much attention.

All that has changed in recent years as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and their billionaire owners — Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — started launching themselves and others on suborbital joyrides. Startups have been conducting suborbital flight tests of new orbital launch vehicles designed to serve the booming smalls satellite market. Suborbital has become a much more interesting sector.

This year has been no exception. The first half of 2022 saw Blue Origin send 12 people into space on two New Shepard flights, a Chinese company conduct six launches in a program to develop aa suborbital spaceplane and hypersonic transport, South Korea and Iran perform flight tests of three different smallsat launchers, Germany test technologies for reusable rockets, and first-ever commercial launch from Australia. And, a great deal of science was done.

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SpaceX Completes Hat Trick with 3 Launches in 36 Hours

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX completed a hat trick over the weekend with three satellite launches from different coasts in 36 hours.

Elon Musk’s company wrapped up a busy weekend when a Falcon 9 booster launched the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket lifted off at 12:27 a.m. EDT.

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SpaceX Conducts Second Launch in Less Than 24 Hours, Third Scheduled for Sunday Morning

SpaceX conducted its second launch in less than 24 hours on Saturday morning when a Falcon 9 carried a German reconnaissance satellite into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The rocket lifted off at 7:19 a.m. PDT (10:19 a.m. EDT) with the Airbus-built SARah synthetic aperture radar satellite for the German military from a fog-shrouded launch pad. SpaceX ended its webcast early prior to satellite deployment at the request of the customer.

The Falcon 9’s first stage booster, launching for the third time, touched down at Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg. It was SpaceX’s 125th recovery of an orbital class booster.

It was the second Falcon 9 flight in just over 22 hours. On Friday, SpaceX launched 53 Starlink broadband satellites from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket lifted off at 12:08 p.m. EDT (9:08 a.m. PDT).

It was a record 13th flight for the Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously launched GPS III-3, Turksat 5A, Transporter-2, and now 10 Starlink missions. The stage landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX will wrap up a busy weekend on Sunday morning with a Falcon 9 launch of the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite at 12:27 a.m. EDT (04:27 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will be the 26th launch of the year for SpaceX.

You can watch the live launch webcast for the launch starting about 10 minutes before liftoff.

SpaceX Plans 3 Launches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday From Opposite Coasts

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on May 14, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has launches planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the East and West coasts.

A Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch 53 Starlink broadband satellites from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:08 p.m. EDT (16:08 UTC). The launch window is instantaneous. A backup launch window is Saturday at 11:47 a.m. EDT (15:47 UTC).

The first stage booster supporting this mission previously launched GPS III-3, Turksat 5A, Transporter-2, and nine Starlink missions. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will return to Earth and land on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

On Saturday, a Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the Airbus-built SARah synthetic aperture radar satellite for the German military from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch window opens at approximately 7:00 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT, 14:00 UTC). The Falcon 9’s first stage booster will return to Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg.

On Sunday, a Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite at 12:27 a.m. EDT (04:27 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

You can watch the live launch webcast for each launch starting about 10 minutes before liftoff.

Texas Gov. Abbott Vows to Fight for SpaceX to Launch From Boca Chica

Greg Abbott

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to fight for SpaceX to receive federal approval to launch its Super Heavy/Starship system from the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Rio Grande Guardian reports:

Asked by veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports whether he is concerned about losing SpaceX, Abbott said:

“What I am going to do if Biden interferes with the ability of SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica; I am going to be working every step of the way to make sure that they are going to be able to launch from Boca Chica. We heard the vision from Mr. Patel himself about what they are working on and our job is to make sure they are able to achieve their vision. And I have worked with Elon Musk very closely with regard to Tesla and the Giga factory in Austin, Texas. And we will be working with him very closely, every step of the way in Boca Chica for the future of SpaceX. We want that future and that vision to come from Boca Chica, from Brownsville, Texas.”

Whitlock followed up with: “And not to Florida?” Abbott responded: “Correct.”

Whitlock interviewed Abbott at an economic development event held recently at the Port of Brownsville. Since this event, SpaceX has learned that its application to expand its Boca Chica rocket launching site has hit a new hurdle.

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Texas Leaders Pressuring FAA to Approve SpaceX’s Boca Chica Site for Super Heavy/Starship Launches

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk’s recent update on the progress of SpaceX’s Super Heavy/Starship launch system didn’t provide much in the way of technical news. However, the billionaire’s presentation did seem to have had its intended political effect.

Musk was clear that if the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t come through with an approval to conduct launches from its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX will move operations to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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OneWeb Suspends Satellite Launches From Baikonur

Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 27, 2021. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Friday launch of 36 OneWeb broadband satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome is officially canceled as the London-based company refused demands from the Russian government amid growing international tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur,” the company said in a one-sentence statement.

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Russia Holds OneWeb Satellites Hostage; No Launch Unless Company & British Government Meet Demands

Vladimir Putin receives a briefing from Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Office of the Russian President)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In what is likely the first hostage drama involving communication satellites, the head of the Russian space program has demanded that the British government divest its shares in OneWeb and that the broadband satellite operator not provide services to foreign militaries in order to launch a new batch of spacecraft. The move comes amid growing tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed on the country by western nations.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that unless these demands are met, Russia will refuse to launch 36 OneWeb satellites that sit atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket currently on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch is scheduled for Saturday morning Moscow time.

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Astrobotic Completes Griffin Lunar Test Model

Griffin structural test model (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

With this major milestone complete, the Structural Test Model for the largest lunar lander since the Apollo Lunar Module is now headed for environmental testing.

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic’s second lunar lander mission, Griffin Mission One (GM1), has completed a major milestone toward flight by completing its Griffin Structural Test Model (STM). This full-scale model will undergo a series of rigorous tests to inform the final flight build of the Griffin lunar lander, scheduled to begin this year.

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Report: SpaceX’s Boca Chica Plans Face Serious Objections from FWS, NPS

Starship SN15 takes off on May 5, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

ESG Hound’s latest look SpaceX’s plan to launch Super Heavy/Starship boosters from its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas suggests the entire effort might need to be scrapped. (The US Department of Interior Drops the Gauntlet on SpaceX and the FAA: SpaceX is headed for an EIS)

The problem: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service do not agree that launching the world’s most powerful rocket will have a non-significant impact on federal and state-managed wildlife refuges and national monuments that surround the Boca Chica launch site. Without their sign off, ESG Hound says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can’t approve the plan using an ongoing environmental assessment that it aims to complete by Jan. 31. A more complicated and lengthy environmental review would be required, resulting in years of delays.

Further, if SpaceX has viable alternatives for Super Heavy/Starship launches in Florida, the company might be required to abandon the Starbase site in Texas. Developing news facilities could result in significant delays to Super Heavy/Starship and the Human Landing System that SpaceX is building for NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface.

Confused? Let’s review a little bit of history first.

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Video: Angry Astronaut Looks at the Environmental Obstacles SpaceX Faces Getting Starbase Approved

Editor’s Note: Not a bad analysis. He points out the questionable wisdom of launching the largest, most powerful rocket ever built from a base placed in the middle of a wildlife preserve with a number of endangered or threatened species.

However, he’s off in terms of some of his criticism. The FAA approval for 12 Falcon 9/Heavy launches annually included the right to test experimental vehicles at the site. Elon took that provision and drove Boosterzilla through it while abandoning plans for any Falcon 9 or Heavy launches from Boca Chica. Should the FAA has foreseen that? Maybe. Or just eliminated the provision for testing experimental vehicles?

As use of the facility changed, the FAA kept approving upgrades and expansion of the site even as the use completely changed. The agency finally chose an environmental assessment (EA) that SpaceX is writing over a much more rigorous and time consuming environmental impact statement (EIS). An EIS was done for the original approval; conservancy groups have been argument for another one given the significant changes in SpaceX’s plans. The wisdom of FAA’s decision to go with the less rigorous EA will likely end up being debated in court, delaying the project further.

FAA has dual mandate when it comes to commercial space: promote the industry while at the same time regulating it. The investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash exposed that FAA was under political pressure to keep commercial space programs moving. Not just SpaceShipTwo but across the board. FAA knew the failure analysis for pilot error was deficient, but issued a waiver to allow the flight test program to continue. It was 15 months later that pilot error destroyed the ship.

So, I highly doubt that FAA’s delay had anything to do with accommodating SpaceX’s schedule, which is probably also delayed. An EA takes time to complete. The original Dec. 31 estimate was simply unrealistic. There were 18,000 comments to respond to in writing. FWS has serious concerns about endangered species that need to be addressed.

Elon Musk Calls Starship Raptor Engine Program a “Disaster,” Warns SpaceX Risks Bankruptcy Next Year

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In an internal email to employees, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that development of the Raptor rocket engine that will power the Super Heavy/Starship launch system is in “crisis,” adding the company risks bankruptcy if the company can’t turn the situation around, according to media reports.

The problems pose a risk not only to SpaceX and its multi-billion dollar Starlink satellite broadband program, but to Musk’s plans to colonize Mars and NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon. The U.S. space agency has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a lunar lander based on the Starship vehicle.

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